Wrong use of "the"...how to correct?

My junior high students do something strange that I can’t quite figure out how to correct.

They use “the” in the wrong places within a sentence. For example, one of my students wrote today:

“John likes [color=darkred]the[/color] Taiwan. He likes to ride the MRT to [color=darkred]the[/color] 101. However, he does not like all stores in [color=darkred]the[/color] Warner Village.”

I was curious to see how much incorrect usage of “the” had spread throughout my students, so I tested them. They all had the exact same results; all made the same mistakes with “the”.

I need a good lesson plan to teach when and when not to use “the” without boring them or confusing them. Any ideas?

*** What is very strange is that in their conversation tests, they did not have this problem. It only occurs in their writing.

Derek, this is very very common. Mandarin doesn’t use articles so much, and the way it does use them is different from English article use. This means it takes a comparatively long time for students here to acquire correct article use.

[quote=“derek1978”]*** What is very strange is that in their conversation tests, they did not have this problem. It only occurs in their writing.[/quote]It’s probably over-correction. They don’t know when to use and when not to use an article. So they just used the definite article all the time in the written test. But I guess they probably miss out most of the articles in speech. For example, they might say “I took MRT to 101”.

This particular mistake is an easy one to point out. You just explain that with most proper nouns you don’t use an article. We don’t say “the Derek” or “the Joe”.

But just pointing this out on one occasion won’t be enough. We’re talking about language acquisition here. It’s not just the assembly of lots of bits of conscious knowledge. Students need to get to the point when they can really “feel” the language. Lots of very brief grammar pointers, done in meaningful contexts, can help students understand consciously and get a “gut feeling” for correct usage in cases like this. Don’t be discouraged when they seem to make progress slowly, or when they seem to have it one day but have forgotten it the next! It’s all part of the natural process of language acquisition.

joe makes good points. i’ll only aadd that you should remember that this is something that native speakers learn through hearing it when we are young. very few lessons need to be given to NSs for them to get it.

here, where input is very limited, it’s going to take lessons AND input AND a great deal of time. you need to make sure that the lessons stick, and don’t just go in one ear and out the other - making them give you correct examples helps, sometimes through activity, other times through drill …

There are probably some very good lessons out there on the internet to help you prepare for how to teach this (and other grammar points). Googling “teach definite article the” just now, for example, I found thisand this. Have a look at these and some other online materials. :wink: Have fun!

The use of articles is one of the hardest things for Chinese speakers to master, since there are so many rules and usages of “the”, and so many exceptions to these rules.

In the example you give, articles are generally not used before names (e.g. Taiwan, Taipei 101, Frank, Jill), but there are exceptions: the Sudan, the Ukraine, the Gambia, and plurals like the Philippines and the Maldives. And Donald Trump is known as “the Donald”.

(The following type of exchange has always irked me: A: I went to Miaoli today. B: What’s a Miaoli? It irks me because a name like Miaoli should not be preceded by an article.)

Now: is MRT a name? In Taipei we take the MRT, while in San Francisco we take BART.

“the” is generally used before things that are definite - meaning both the speaker and the listener know what it is. The indefinite article “a” is often used to introduce an item to the listener; “the” is used thereafter. “I saw a guy on a Harley today. The guy had tattoos on his arms.”

“the” also makes things more specific/concrete, while omitting it makes it more general/abstract: compare the presence/absense of “the” before “Congress” and “society”, or phrases like “over hill and dale”. But “the” can also make things more abstract in some circumstances: “Let us contemplate the hand”; “Before the invention of the wheel…”.

“the” also makes things unique, such as “I’m the doctor at Mucha Health Clinic”, which means that I’m the only doctor there. “I’m a doctor at Mucha Health Clinic” implies that there are other doctors.

Omission of “the” can emphasize that something is an institution that one belongs to: compare “I am going to prison” with “I am going to the prison”. (I’d rather say the latter!) Words like “school”, “church”, “college” and in the UK, “hospital” and “university” are often not preceded by “the”, giving it a different meaning than if preceded by “the”. Further complicating this is “home”, which functions as an adverb: “I am going home”. Compare the meanings of the following:

“I am going home” (i.e. returning to my residence)
“I am going to a home” (i.e. being committed to an [perhaps mental] institution)
“I am going to the home” (i.e. going to a certain institution, perhaps to work there or visit a patient there)

Diseases: we catch meningitis and AIDS, but the flu and the clap.

An entire book can be written on the use of “the”. There is no simple answer on when and when not to use it.

The other posters gave some good advice; I’m just trying to highlight why the Chinese have such a hard time with “the”.

i’ve used some things from this and this- depends on levels

It’s not a bad error. It shows they kind of understand the idea of “the”. It’s used with something important and something specific. It’s much better than “a Taipei 101”.

Reinforce the rule that you don’t use “the” with proper names unless “the” is part of the proper name. (Sure, there are exceptions, but don’t get into that.)

If you have the freedom to do so, give the kids a well-designed worksheet to help them know when to use a/an, when to use the, and when to leave off any article. Avoid including any exceptions to the rule on your worksheet.